S.S. Badger travel tips: 7 things to do in Manitowoc after crossing Lake Michigan

A trip across Lake Michigan on the last operating coal-fired steam ship in the United States in an experience unto itself, but there’s lots more to do once you step off the gangway in Wisconsin.

The S.S. Badger traverses Lake Michigan between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Michiganders looking for a unique getaway need search no further than this. Among Manitowoc’s offerings are a maritime museum with a World War II submarine, a free art museum, a non-motorized trail overlooking Lake Michigan, a brewery, a waterfront restaurant and music venue, and an aquatic center featuring a lazy river.

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Many of Manitowoc’s main attractions are within walking distance from the Badger dock, and the city’s tourism liaisons stationed at the ship office during arrivals are always happy to point travelers in the right direction.

Here’s a list of Manitowoc’s biggest attractions, according to city tourism officials:

Wisconsin Maritime Museum

Children explore inside the USS Cobia, a restored World War II submarine, at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, 75 Maritime Dr. in Manitowoc, Wis.City of Manitowoc

The crown jewel of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum is its World War II submarine, the USS Cobia. The restored submarine is available for tours during museum hours and serves as an Airbnb for those who want a more intimate experience. The museum also has a rooftop bar, the Sub Pub, which serves craft beer, wine, cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages – downtown restaurants will deliver to hungry patrons.

Rahr-West Art Museum

A view of the Rahr-West Art Museum, which is situated in an old mansion at 610 N. 8th St. in Manitowoc, Wis.City of Manitowoc

Manitowoc has one of the top 10 fine art museums in Wisconsin – and admission is free. Inside an old mansion, the Rahr-West Art Museum has works by Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. It also has rotating exhibits.

For the outdoorsy types, Manitowoc offers the Mariners Trail. The non-motorized, 6.2-mile, asphalt trail is lined with gardens and includes views of Lake Michigan. The trail is universally accessible and good for walking, bicycling and inline skating. It begins at Blue Rail Beach, which is also home to the Manitowoc Lighthouse.

Manitowoc’s signature old-timey candy store, Beerntsen’s Confectionary, is known for its chocolate molding creations, things like high-heeled shoes and perfume bottles. With a custom order, they’ll make chocolates in any shape you wish. The store also serves ice cream, sandwiches and soup.

The Wharf

Patrons gather around the bar at The Wharf, 606 Quay St. in Manitowoc, Wis. The restaurant is known for its open-air patio that serves as a concert venue during the summer.City of Manitowoc

Newer to the Manitowoc scene is The Wharf, a lively bar, restaurant and music venue that features indoor and outdoor seating. The open-air patio has a retractable roof. The patio also serves as an entertainment venue with concerts every weekend in the summer.

PetSkull Brewing Company

A selection of craft purees is displayed on the bar top at PetSkull Brewing Company, 1015 Buffalo St. in Manitowoc, Wis.City of Manitowoc

Another new addition to the Manitowoc scene is PetSkull Brewing Company, a craft brewery and restaurant serving Cajun dishes and treats. It’s the only place in town to get a beignet. Known for unique flavors – like banana and blueberry lemonade – a new beer is released weekly.

The Manitowoc Aquatic Center is tops in family entertainment with an outdoor pool, lazy river, splash pad, two waterslides and a diving board. There’s also an 18-hole miniature golf course onsite.

HOW TO GET THERE: The S.S. Badger’s 2022 sailing season begins on Thursday, May 12, with daily departures from both Ludington and Manitowoc. Round trip passenger tickets range from $56 to $129. The ferry can also accommodate cars/trucks, trailers, motorcycles, RVs and bicycles.

The 69-year-old Badger became a National Historic Landmark in 2016. She is the last coal-fired passenger steam ship in the United States. The 410-foot vessel can accommodate 600 passengers and 180 vehicles.

The Badger first went to work in 1953 transporting railcars across Lake Michigan for Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company. But by 1980, that was no longer profitable for C&O, and the ship was sold. It continued to transport railcars until 1990 and seemed destined for the scrapyard at that point. However, she was saved in 1992 by Ludington native Charles Conrad who converted the big ship into a car ferry. The Badger has been transporting passengers and vehicles across Lake Michigan ever since.

The ship came under new ownership when Lake Michigan Carferry was bought by Interlake Holding Company in 2020.

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